COVID-19's sudden expansion across the United States has disrupted most major industries, and higher education is no exception.
In fact, colleges and universities were some of the first institutions to respond to the growing pandemic, with many suspending on-campus classes and closing student dorms in early March. Here at TheBestSchools, we're taking a look at how institutions of higher education have reacted to the spread of coronavirus.
While some schools are merely suspending or postponing classes, many have turned to online education to ensure students are still getting an education. Among those institutions are ivy-league schools like Harvard University, private liberal arts schools like Amherst University, and public universities like the University of California system. Community colleges have also moved online.
However, the move to online schooling has raised concerns, especially with regard to equitability in the education system. In particular, educators are worried about low-income or disadvantaged students who don't have access to computers or the internet: Without those basic tools, the move online could push them behind in their studies.
Similarly, educators are concerned about the inevitable drop in educational quality that would result from unprepared professors attempting to move their courses online using unfamiliar tools and technology. Many schools have switched courses to pass/fail to help students, but the loss in educational quality could be immeasurable, especially when you consider that many schools have not reduced tuition to reflect the change in circumstance.
Luckily, a few companies have stepped up and begun offering free educational tools for universities impacted by COVID-19. While these can't solve everything, they can certainly help make the transition to online education smoother.
Another major question that has arisen during the spread of COVID-19: How are admissions going to work?
Now is the time when high school seniors are thinking about their futures, making admissions decisions, and getting all of their paperwork in order. With colleges and universities across the country closed until further notice, many seniors find themselves in a quagmire of uncertainty, unsure if they should take the coronavirus into consideration when deciding where to attend college.
To make matters worse, the cancelation of standardized tests like the SAT have made things difficult for students who need those scores to apply to schools. The College Board canceled March SAT testing dates weeks ago, and has since canceled make-up and May testing dates as well.
SAT cancelations are also concerning for international students, especially those from China, where COVID-19 was first detected. International students are a major source of revenue for American colleges, and about one-third of international students in the United States are from China. With Chinese students unable to access SAT testings, we may see a major drop in admission, which means major income loss for U.S. colleges and universities.
Universities Fighting Back
While the novel coronavirus has brought considerable uncertainty to higher education, it has also sparked innovation and resistance. Before the virus was first identified in the U.S., a lab at the University of Washington was already developing a test for it. By the time the FDA approved university laboratory testing, UW Medicine was ready to jump into action — a lucky break, considering that Seattle was the first major city impacted by COVID-19.
Another professor at UW Medicine, Dr. Deborah Fuller, says her lab is working on a promising vaccine for the virus. Similarly, a research collaboration between a research institute and researchers from McMaster University and the University of Toronto in Canada was the first to successfully isolate the virus — the first step toward developing a successful vaccine.
And it's not just medical labs that are helping; computer science and data departments are also contributing. For example, MIT released a virus-tracking app that traces social connections between people with COVID-19 symptoms, and Samford University in Alabama published a free web tool that tracks cases of COVID-19 in the state in real time.